Don’t worry, be happy
God is a Symbol of Something True
Is there anything more fun to talk about than the existence of God? The topic comes up all the time in my life because of this part of my job. I’ll bet I talk more about God in bars than almost any pastor I ever met. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of two pastors with whom I’ve ever discussed the topic while imbibing alcohol. I did, however, have a good many conversations with the brothers in the bars on campus at Benedictine College when I went to that school back in the early ’80s.
So, I’d have to say, writing a scholarly treatise on the nature of God is my idea of fun. That’s what philosophy professor Jack Call did with his book, God is a Symbol of Something True.
As I planned this review, my first inclination was to try to object to or support the various assertions Call made in the book, but the bottom lines are 1) Whether or not I agree with what he says, his ideas are thought-provoking, and 2) the guy is clearly smarter than I am.
That puts me in the position of describing the structure and what the book contains, commenting on the style with which it was written, and finally, offering a recommendation.
As far as structure, God is a Symbol is made up of 10 chapters in which Call discusses 10 topics relating to and proving the central premise. Examples include “Individualistic Religion: What is religion, and is there a true one?” “Morality and Meaning: Is it true that without God, there would be no morality and no meaning?” and my favorite “The Problems of Evil and Suffering: How can it be fundamentally all right that there is evil and suffering?”
The central tenet of the book is that “everything is fundamentally all right, in spite or because of the fact that there are important things that one cares about deeply, over which one has no control and never will.” This is basically also the description of what Call calls “individualistic religion” and individualistic religion’s path to salvation. And before anyone gets all heated up that Call is espousing a new religion, he’s not. In fact, he writes mainly in the context of Christianity. God is both the symbol for the all rightness of things and the symbol for the fact that we care deeply about some things we can’t control.
Herein would lay the problem for those who espouse most monotheistic religions: God can’t be just a symbol. The subtitle of the book—Why you don’t have to choose either a literal creator God or a blind, indifferent universe—seems to fall short, because having an entity god in control who appears never to act seems equivalent to me to having an ordered godless universe. Call goes into this in the chapter “The God/Universe Problem” but never made the point click for me. I guess I’ll have to be content with the explanation that the sum total of the equation is that everything is fundamentally all right whether or not God exists.
OK, bottom line: Jack Call is an intelligent, thoughtful philosopher who can write a concise academic sentence, which is not to say it’s easy reading. It takes a motivated reader to read and reread and understand even most of the subtleties. He chews on this notion of God like a Jack Russell terrier worries a ball on a rope. I think people who don’t like to argue about the existence of God, morality and ethics in bars—or classrooms or churches—would not have the motivation to get through this book.
But I’d recommend it to anyone who does.